HAQLANIYAH, Iraq -- In the town of Haqlaniyah, the “Raiders” of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, continue to patrol the streets every day, keeping the area safe from the ongoing insurgency.
On many of these patrols is Oconomowoc, Wis., native, Lance Cpl. Darin J. Wittnebel who has a very important duty that helps him keep the “Raider Nation” safe from improvised explosive devices and find abandoned weapons caches. He carries the PSS-12 metal detector on every patrol he goes on.
“The detector can pick up lots of stuff underneath the ground or under piles of garbage,” said the 20-year-old rifleman for the company. “We bring it with us because you never know when you will find a weapons cache or IED.”
Combat engineers attached to the battalion usually use the detector when on patrols. But with the lack of engineers and the number of patrols going in many different villages throughout the battalion’s area of operations, the idea came to send some riflemen to a class taught by the engineers.
“When we were back at the dam, my squad leader picked me to go to the class to be taught how to use the detector,” said Wittnebel, a 2003 Oconomowoc High School graduate.
The training has paid off.
Recently, Wittnebel and other Marines in his squad were out on a routine patrol providing security and talking with local people in the area. On their way back to the base, Wittnebel was sweeping the curbs when a loud beep came from the detector signaling the presence of a large metal object.
“I wasn’t sure what it was picking up, but I found out when I moved some trash away from the area and there was a bunch wires attached to a battery assembly,” he said as he smiled. “As soon as I saw that I didn’t waste any time getting away from there. I just couldn’t believe that I found an IED just like that, and it was right outside the base.”
When not using his skills sweeping for IEDs and weapons caches, the former student of Waukesha County Technical College guards the base and is part of the quick reaction force for the company. Wittnebel says he enjoys spending every day working with his squad to keep the area safe.
“The thing I like best about being here is the people I work with,” commented Wittnebel. “Everyone comes from a different part of the world and you really get to know people out here.”
For Marines like Wittnebel, working with the metal detector on almost every patrol is a big help in finding IEDs and weapons caches here. According to 1st Lt. Jared W. Burgess, a platoon commander with the company, there have been numerous IEDs and weapons caches found in the area with the help of the metal detectors.
“It has definitely been a help having the detectors on almost every patrol,” commented Burgess, a Walnut Creek, Calif., native. “It has been especially helpful in the palm groves and open desert so that Marines aren’t just digging around looking for things under ground without knowing if something is there or not.”